As a career maneuver officer who commanded at every level from platoon to corps, retired Gen. Robert B. Brown was often on the receiving end of Army sustainment throughout his nearly four-decade career. Known for his down-to-earth, motivational leadership—from his days at the U.S. Military Academy to the helm of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), the Army’s largest service component command—Brown also served as commander of U.S. Army Combined Arms Center (CAC) and I Corps. We sat down with him to discuss the criticality of the strategic support area and the role it will play in the future fight.How did you perceive logistics evolution throughout your career?As a young officer during the Cold War, command and control was the method of organizational leadership. It was very predictable, and you almost knew the other team’s plays. The fog of war was not having enough information.Today, it’s the opposite: The fog of war is too much information. We have moved to mission command to empower and be able to gain the initiative against an adversary. You no longer know for sure whether you’ll be in a large-scale operation, fighting COVID-19 or Ebola, or something in between. The transformation has been significant, and logistics is no exception.We used to think of a secure rear-area for sustainment operations. In AirLand Battle, we didn’t spend much time on potential threats to logisticians because we assumed they were protected in a relatively secure rear area. Throw all that out the window now; the battlefield is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous, it’s interconnected, and it’s unpredictable. There’s no ‘safe area’ in any type of conflict. Not even the homeland, where we used to feel very protected, is safe. You just can’t have the large mountains of supplies we’re used to.Multi-domain operations (MDO) is clearly the future. The key aspect, the linchpin, will be the ability to logistically support MDO. Our sustainment has continued to evolve, but fixing strategic-level support areas is not as attractive as getting a new tank or airplane. Everybody’s known for a long time that sustainment has needed more investment. Logistics leaders have done a great job highlighting the shortcomings; the challenge has been convincing others of the need to put more effort into sustainment.The old adage, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics,” is very, very true. We have to innovate to have more agile, flexible support areas. We can talk about all the other stuff but, if you can’t support it, you’re going to put folks out there alone and unable to complete their missions. We don’t operate that way so we have some work to do.Can you discuss our efforts to “Set the Pen” during the period of heightened tension and provocative behavior by North Korea in 2017 and 2018?In my 38 years in uniform—18-plus of which were in the Pacific—no question, it’s the closest we came to war with North Korea. As USARPAC commander, I was responsible for training, preparing, and logistically supporting the forces’ Eighth Army would fight with on the peninsula.As tensions started rising, we were tracking roughly 500 issues, many of which were sustainment related. It wasn’t like we were ignoring them; everybody knew what we needed. But people were losing their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and there was no question that had to be the priority. It was Gen. Mark Milley, then chief of staff of the Army, who got the entire Army behind this “All Things Korea” effort.It started with tabletop exercises (TTXs). He had us bring commanders out, stand on the map, and talk. At first, I thought, “This isn’t the National Training Center or tactical level; will this help synchronize the massive challenges that needed fixing?” It was a great idea. The TTXs were difficult to set up, and had to be kept very secretive, but we learned a ton. From the industrial base to noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), by bringing together all the best minds from across the military and interagency and multinational partners, the rose got pinned on somebody to fix a problem and feasible solutions were developed.They were tense moments. Updates were briefed weekly, sometimes daily, and had the attention of the entire Department of Defense. It was a tremendous example of the weight of the entire institution turning toward the crisis. In the end, less than 20 of those 500 issues couldn’t be resolved within six to eight months.Then-Secretary of Defense retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis took what we were doing and had each of the services do the same, because the situation was that critical. It was a team-planning method that worked.Thank goodness we had incredible logistics folks. They led a lot of innovation that should be studied as tactics, techniques, and procedures for the future. We often have to move to the next crisis without ever looking at what we did wrong or patting ourselves on the back for what we did right. I’m certain they’re using some of the same techniques for the ongoing COVID-19 response.It was a huge success story and I was proud to be a small part of it. Without a doubt, I believe it was one of the key factors in the eventual negotiations with North Korea. They saw what we were doing—incredible commitment and teamwork with allies in our planning efforts, rehearsals, and exercises—and they knew they would lose; it was just a question of how long it would take.Can you discuss strategic support area in the context of deterrence and the tyranny of distance?Amazingly, one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the Pacific’s history is the tyranny of distance. The Pacific is 50% of the earth’s surface, and there is nowhere more challenged by time and distance factors.In one of those TTXs, I remember Gen. Gustave "Gus" Perna briefing that it takes a ship approximately 12 days to get to Korea. I responded, “You’re kidding me!” For some reason I thought they had bigger engines or newer technologies that would reduce the time. But a ship can only go so fast. It took them 12 to 14 days in World War II and it takes about the same today.The strategic support area has to be set and ready. It doesn’t take a genius to study and red team yourself. If I were going to fight us, I’d look first to the strategic support area: It’s hard to hide, must be practiced, rehearsed, and able to function against any threat, including cyber and space. If you’re dealing with a poorly-organized or unsecure strategic support area, you’re not going to be successful because distances in the Pacific are just too great. But if it’s effective and secure—enemies know it’s able to do its job in any condition—it’s going to deter.We also need to look at innovative ways to be less predictable in where things are coming from; everything can’t come from Northeast Asia or stateside. How do you come from other directions? How do you preposition materiel or move it during exercises to reduce the tyranny of distance? Perna and I had this discussion frequently, and the logisticians amazed me with what they drew up for the North Korea scenario. When I asked in the past, they’d say, “Give me $4 million and we’ll move it.” This time around, they didn’t ask for money. We told them what we needed and they figured out how to do it, efficiently and effectively.That’s the type of innovation you need in the Pacific, and I would argue in Europe as well. There’s tyranny of distance there too, but instead of island-to-island and an expansive ocean, you’re dealing with a large continent and infrastructure—everything from railroad lines to bridging—that has deteriorated over time.How are the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Forces (MDTFs) helping advance the MDO concept closer to doctrine?During my time at CAC, we worked hard to think about the future fight and its impact on the Army and Joint force. What would be the next AirLand Battle? Alongside great leaders like Gen. Dave Perkins and Lt Gen. H.R. McMaster, we really started working the Army Operating Concept which then led to the initial development of MDO and joint integration.For what was at that time known as multi-domain battle, I was able to take the experience from the institutional side of the Army and apply it in the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) area of operations (AOR). It fit extremely well because forces in the theater cannot do their job effectively and efficiently without it. So I went to the chief of staff of the Army and INDOPACOM commander to gain support for piloting the concepts in our simulations, wargames, and exercises to ultimately move them toward doctrine.For a good 20 years, Russia and China have studied our playbook. They know what we want to do and have developed antiaccess area denial (A2/AD) systems to prevent it. In the competition phase, very little used to happen 20 years ago; now, something happens every day. Whether it’s competition for influence or resources, China is competing more than anybody, and Russia is right there with them. When you look at AirLand Battle, going from concept to doctrine took about 14 years. We don’t have 14 years anymore.If you don’t have an element that can be out competing on a daily basis, you’ll have major problems. We found that a small maneuver formation on land—particularly on islands and key features—that can effectively operate in multiple domains and employ long-range fires could have huge impacts on that A2/AD umbrella and the MDO fight. Yes, you can survive in the air and at sea, but it’s hard to hide for long periods of time in either, with the technology out there today. Small maneuver formations on land are the most survivable, can consistently impact the competition phase, and be incredibly effective if competition turns to conflict.The first MDTF was stood up at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, in February 2019, and included an Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space (I2CEWS) battalion. From concept to a formation actually formed on the ground, the Army made it happen in 18 months, which may be the fastest in history during peacetime. It’s a game changer, and many of the concepts coming out of the MDTF are moving into doctrine and capabilities.The other piece is joint integration. In AirLand Battle, and largely still today, we have joint interdependence: Each service is dependent upon the others for unique capabilities. We depend on the Air Force to put Joint Direct Attack Munition through windows in support of ground maneuver formations, because only they can. Historically it’s been very effective, but it’s not good enough anymore. We need integration that is platform- and system-agnostic so information can be rapidly shared between all the services to get inside an enemy’s decision cycle and impact their A2/AD.Logistical support is critical to this joint integration. You’re going to have small formations that must be supported in creative ways—we even looked at things like positioning old Navy fuel blivets underwater off an island. My point is nothing should be moving to the theater, joint-wise, that isn’t supporting sustainment operations. It’s really changed the whole concept of support across the AOR and created much more of a joint team approach.Direct Attack Munition through windows in support of ground maneuver formations, because only they can. Historically it’s been very effective, but it’s not good enough anymore. We need integration that is platform- and system-agnostic so information can be rapidly shared between all the services to get inside an enemy’s decision cycle and impact their A2/AD.Logistical support is critical to this joint integration. You’re going to have small formations that must be supported in creative ways—we even looked at things like positioning old Navy fuel blivets underwater off an island. My point is nothing should be moving to the theater, joint-wise, that isn’t supporting sustainment operations. It’s really changed the whole concept of support across the AOR and created much more of a joint team approach.How can commanders at the tactical level build readiness at the strategic level?When I was a lieutenant some 36 years ago, there were clear-cut lines between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. Differences were simple to understand. Today, that’s all gone; it’s a blur from tactical to strategic. It’s the strategic corporal on steroids!Commanders at the tactical level need to understand their day-to-day operations can turn strategic in a nanosecond. Whether in a real fight or an exercise, someone at the tactical level does something wrong and it ends up on the front page or in an online video. That’s why the fundamentals that have worked so well for the Army over the years are still critical: Disciplined units, disciplined initiative, and mission command that builds trust.You have to empower and the only way to do so is to build trust in your organization every day, over and over again. It takes time and is incredibly difficult but folks are ready when they’re empowered. Without trust, it’s impossible to fight, successfully, at the tactical level and subsequently build readiness at the strategic level.The other aspect is prudent risk. The commander may think acceptable risk is one place while the subordinate leader thinks it’s somewhere else. You must have that discussion to bring them together. You may go a little their way; they may come a little yours. But if you don’t have that discussion, they won’t know you’re going to back them up or you may back something you didn’t bargain for.When I was a Stryker brigade commander, I had amazing battalion commanders—guys like Eric Kurilla, now 18th Airborne Corps commander, and Todd McCaffrey, now U.S. Africa Command chief of staff. I could empower the heck out of them, but each was a little different based on experience, perspective of the situation, and their unit’s capabilities. I may give one this much room and the other a lot more. By having that discus-sion, you constantly build that trust. You can never build enough.Finally, you have to understand the new fight. The services are still posturing on exactly who does what, but eventually they’ll see very clearly the only way forward is joint integration, MDO, and working together. Young leaders must never be satisfied with the way they’re currently doing things; be hungry for what’s next. You will have the best ideas for incorporating cyber and space, or that new type of unmanned aerial vehicle or long-range fire that can go 10 times farther.If you sit back and accept the norm, too many people will be lost if we have a conflict and have to learn as we fight. But if you push and are never satisfied, we’ll get to the future.What are the biggest lessons that most impacted your time in uniform?I never, in a million years, thought I’d be a general. All I wanted was to command a battalion; that would have been success. I wouldn’t even be in the Army except a guy named Mike Krzyzewski was very persuasive and talked me out of a basketball scholarship to University of Michigan to play at West Point instead. I feel very fortunate.Building a team to face a challenging mission is one of the most fun things you can do, and I learned how from Coach K. He instilled loyalty and trust, constant effort and energy, and still sets that example today. Perhaps most important is learning you really have to care for those you lead. From the time we’re born, we start evaluating our leaders: Parents, teachers, coaches. If you look back, the best leader you ever had isn’t necessarily the smartest person you worked for, or the one who accomplished this or that. It’s the one you knew cared about you and cared about the organization,; not themselves. You can’t hide the fact that you care. You also learn you have to be yourself. When you’re younger, you’re always trying to find who you’re most like as a famous leader. Eventually, you realize you have to be yourself and accept that.Humility is the last thing, which my parents instilled. Especially today, you have to know you don’t have all the answers. How do you get to the point of standing in front of a group—whether it’s two people or 200,000—and say, “I may not have the best solution, we need everyone’s input and ideas”? That takes humility in leadership. I fought for years to get humility added to the Army’s leadership characteristics. Empathy was there, confidence, too; humility was not. They just added it and I’m so glad.The Army is the greatest team in the world and it’s because of the people. The dedication of Soldiers never ceases to amaze me. When they know you care about them, then you’re brothers and sisters for a lifetime; they’ll go through a brick wall for you. Having just retired, I don’t miss the bureaucracy or meetings. I miss the people. I feel very proud to have served alongside them and to be able to call myself a Soldier for Life.--------------------Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.--------------------This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook